Labneh with toasted black sesame seed & olive oil
Another day, another dip – this time Labneh, a wonderfully zingy, creamy Lebanese cheese made from salted and strained Greek yoghurt. While still a relatively unknown ingredient here, Labneh has long been a staple of mezze plates and has recently become a popular substitute for cream cheese in the States, owing to its higher protein levels; clean, yoghurty flavour and its lower fat content.
Labneh is very easy to make – you just leave muslin-wrapped salted yoghurt to drain overnight in the fridge. It’s also a hugely flexible ingredient: it can be made with savoury or sweet flavours; it can be served pungent with herbs and spices and oils or it can be left untouched and beautiful, whiter than white. I made mine plain and then dressed it after it was finished – the best of both worlds.
After a little deliberation, I decided to serve my labneh as a starter, with warm pitta; radishes; olive oil; black sesame seeds, za’atar, cumin seed, ground coriander and pomegranate in various forms. Next time I make it, I’m going to try it for breakfast on toasted sourdough with figs, honey and toasted black sesame seed.
The longer you allow your labneh to drain, the firmer and thicker it will become. I left mine for about 30 hours and it had a lovely creamy texture – like Philadelphia, but without that heavy, slightly claggy richness that cream cheese often has. If you want a really firm cheese, drain it with a weight on top and give it a squeeze every couple of hours.
Makes 1 medium-sized bowl
5oog Greek yoghurt (use a good-quality, full-fat version)
1/2tsp sea salt
Mix the salt into the yoghurt and add a pinch more if you’re planning to have it as a savoury cheese. Drape the muslin over a sieve and place over a saucepan. Pour the yoghurt mix in and tighten the muslin around it, spinning it into a fat round. Squeeze out some of the excess liquid and leave to drain overnight or for at least ten hours – I left mine for about 30 hours and it did it no harm. Because it’s refrigerated it’s no tangier than Greek yoghurt, but if you want it to have a little more personality, drain it for the first couple of hours over the kitchen tap and then refrigerate it for the remainder of the time
I layered mine with lots more flavours after I took the picture as the light was fading fast.
Good-quality olive oil; homemade za’aatar ( toasted sesame seeds, thyme, sumac optional); cumin seeds; black sesame seed, toasted; ground coriander; pomegranate seeds; pomegranate syrup; harissa; diced garlic (either roasted or raw); tahini and chopped mint, parsley, coriander. Unbind the labneh and, using a butter knife, spread onto a plate, saucer or shallow bowl. Add whatever flavours, oils and textures you desire and finish with oil, salt, pomegranate seeds and diced herbs. Serve with warmed pitta or flatbreads.